The Associated Press
updated 11/13/2003 6:19:14 AM ET 2003-11-13T11:19:14

Internet users who distribute movies and music ahead of their official release dates could face five years in prison under a bill introduced on Thursday by several U.S. senators.

SURREPTITIOUS VIDEOTAPING of movies in theaters would also be outlawed under the measure, sponsored by California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn.

The bill takes aim at two practices that over the past several years have disrupted release schedules and cost movie makers an estimated $3 billion annually in lost sales, according to the bill’s sponsors.

Unauthorized copies of movies often turn up in flea markets and online “peer to peer” networks such as Kazaa shortly after they are released, thanks to audience members who smuggle camcorders into theaters.

In other cases, industry insiders post movies online before they are officially released.

Both practices would become felonies under the bill, with maximum sentences of five years for first offenders as well as monetary damages.

Unauthorized videotaping in theaters is currently a crime in four states and the District of Columbia but legal in other states.

Copyright infringement is already illegal, but the bill would make such activity easier to prosecute by assuming that any copyrighted work posted online ahead of its release date has been downloaded at least 10 times, causing damages of at least $2,500.

“There is no legitimate purpose for a person taking copyrighted material not legally available to the public in any form and putting on the Internet for free distribution without authorization,” Feinstein said in prepared remarks.

Lobbyists from the movie and recording industries applauded the bill.

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